The Perils of Social Networks

October 9th, 2013 by Garrett Baltezegar

By now it’s obvious that social networking is popular with many people and is here to stay.  In fact, currently utilize some form of social networking!  It is a great way to stay connected to people you might not see every day, and it is certainly handy for sharing thoughts, photos and videos with your friends.  But there is a certain risk you take by using social networking.  Below I’ve created a list of facts you may not know about social networking sites.

You should have no expectation to privacy on these sites.  This isn’t restricted to just social network sites, but it definitely applies here.  With every social networking site we sign up for, there comes a Terms of Service (ToS).  I’d be willing to bet that most of us don’t actually read through that agreement.  If we did, what I just said about privacy wouldn’t surprise you.  Most social networking sites reserve the right to use any of your photos for their advertising purposes.  This applies even to photos you mark “private,” or only allow certain friends to see.  And once your photo is added to your account, it is being stored on their servers.  But what happens when you take a photo off of the site?  Surely they delete it from their servers too?  Wrong.  They don’t have to, and most likely don’t.  Their money comes from advertising, and what better advertising do they have than using real user photos and information to promote their site.  This same idea applies to closing your account.  There’s no guarantee your data will be deleted automatically.  In fact, the site may require that you contact them directly to request deletion of your data, and that could take weeks!

Some of your photos may tell people where you live, work and play!  You know that convenient GPS system that is embedded in your phone?  The location data from it can be embedded into pictures you take with your smartphone.  When you upload your pictures, that data can come with it.  Now, anyone who sees your photo can examine it for metadata, and potentially see where and when you took that photo!  An easy way to see this data would be to right click on any picture on your computer, and click on the “Properties” option.  Then choose the “Details” tab.  Here, you can see the data your photo contains that you might not realize was there.  Sure, some of it is harmless, but what if GPS coordinates were embedded in photos of your children at a playground?  And this isn’t even the easiest information for someone to learn about you.  Simply posting status updates about your vacation could tip off a would-be burglar to your whereabouts.

The information on your profile could be used to access your bank account!  Consider the account security questions you create when you first setup your online bank account.  Could you find your mother’s maiden name, the street you grew up on, your favorite color, best friend’s name, etc. from your profile information?  How about your email address?  Knowing this information, it would be pretty easy for an attacker to perform a password reset of an account.

Finally, there’s always the risk that what you are posting can backfire.  There are several people each year who are reprimanded or lost their jobs because they posted something they thought was private, but it was seen by everyone.  Again, this reinforces the idea that nothing you post online should be considered private.